Posts Tagged ‘alan lomax’

My world: Sir David Attenborough

Posted on May 8th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


The legendary broadcaster revisits the sounds of his early career on a recent BBC programme that reveals a little-known side to the beloved naturalist – that of a world music collector. He shares his favourite tracks with producer Julian May

David Attenborough has been making natural history programmes for 60 years. He is held in such high regard that when he went to the White House, it was the president of the US who interviewed him rather than the other way around. I wonder if, after discussing the fragility of planet Earth, Obama and Attenborough had a conversation about another concern they share – music. After all, one of Attenborough’s earliest collaborations, as a young television producer in the early 50s, was with Alan Lomax, the American folklorist who collected songs from Leadbelly, Jelly Roll Morton and many others.

“I had become interested in folk music through the Third Programme, now Radio 3,” Attenborough tells me. “The BBC brought Alan Lomax over, initially to make programmes about flamenco. When I heard them, I thought it would be a good idea to make a series about traditional music here. Alan was very enthusiastic and soon musicians from all over Britain and Ireland were coming to the studios at Alexandra Palace to take part in our series called Song Hunter. Among them were people who became famous figures: the Copper Family, the great fiddle player Michael Gorman… and Margaret Barry. She left her banjo under the studio lights, so when she came to sing ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ not a string was in tune, and she had taken her teeth out. The audience disagreed, but I thought she was magnificent!”

Song Hunter was broadcast live and the programmes thought to be lost in the ether. But recently, clearing out his cellar, Attenborough came across half a dozen shellac 78rpm discs, and one was definitely from the series. It includes Bob Roberts singing ‘Maggie May’, in which a sailor fresh ashore, with money in his pocket, enjoys a night with Maggie, then wakes up to find that not only had she made off with his pay, she’d taken his clothes, too.


“In the day we filmed the man from the zoo pouncing on pythons. But in the evenings I recorded music”


After Song Hunter Attenborough spent almost a decade making Zoo Quest, travelling to the far reaches of the earth to film – and collect – animals for London Zoo. He was, though, always as interested in the people he came across as the animals. “In the day we filmed the man from the zoo pouncing on pythons. But in the evenings I recorded music. When I returned from these trips I gave the recordings to the BBC Sound Library and they’ve been there ever since.”

I searched in the Sound Library and found more than 60 music items, from West Africa, Latin America, Indonesia, the South Pacific, Madagascar and Australia, credited to David Attenborough as collector. On December 25 he presented a programme we made for Radio 3 revisiting these recordings that he – and nobody else – hadn’t heard for years. “These tracks remind me of the musicians who, half a century ago, shared with me their fascinating and wonderful music.”

In 1957 Attenborough travelled through Java and Bali on his way to the island of Komodo to film the famous ‘dragons.’ He came across gamelan music, and was enchanted. “Bali then was almost unaffected by outside influence. Every village had its gamelan, 20 or more players. They practised almost every night. None of the music was written and the master taught each player his part individually. Then they played together with extraordinary precision and verve.” ‘Sekaten Gendhing’ is not Balinese, but from Central Java, where the tradition is more stately.

In 1959 Zoo Quest took Attenborough to Paraguay where he was delighted to find anteaters and armadillos – and a tradition of harp music. “I recorded a group with two harps and three guitars, including a huge bass instrument called a guitarrón. They played great sweeping glissandos on the harps. We used some of it to accompany images of armadillos trotting over the Chacos desert. One tune, ‘Pájaro Campana (The Bell Bird)’, became the signature tune for the series and Paraguayan harp music became very popular. When Trio Los Paraguayos came to Britain they were very pleased to find an audience already prepared for their music.” Attenborough, then, is responsible for breaking one of the earliest world music acts in the UK.

In 1962 Attenborough went to Arnhem Land, Australia, where he met Aboriginal people who had had very little contact with Europeans. He became very interested in Aboriginal bark painting and one of the artists, Magani, agreed to show him how this was done. “I went to his shelter every day to watch him making these extraordinary images of animals, goannas, lizards, kangaroos. But often Magani wasn’t there and I was told he had ‘business,’ which meant sacred rites.” Magani agreed to Attenborough’s attendance at a coming-of-age ceremony when boys, painted with lizard figures, slithered under a huge, beautifully decorated didgeridoo, which represented a great serpent, Yurlungur, who was important in their creation myth. “This marked their coming into maturity,” Attenborough says. “It was a very moving ceremony. All the time the didgeridoo played and this was the voice of Yurlungur. Whenever I hear such music I am transported back to prehistory because the Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for at least 40,000 years. That’s way earlier than the cave paintings of Lascaux in France.” As well as enjoying the beautiful voice of Gurrumul from Elcho Island, north of Arnhem Land, Attenborough hears in the music of the singer a connection with this ancient culture and land.

“Music takes me back to those places 50 or 60 years ago,” Attenborough muses. “Visual images don’t. I see film of myself from then, chasing an anteater, and think, what an odd human being, or, what funny trousers. But hearing the music takes me right back. Sound has that power. Back then it was possible to hear music that had developed over thousands of years, completely free from the Western forms that now have taken over the world. You would not be able to record the music that I did then today.” His choice of the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars reflects this. Sierra Leone was the first country he visited for Zoo Quest where he recorded amazing drumming and balange playing. Since then the country has been ravaged by war and the Refugee All Stars, who formed in a displaced people’s camp, now play all over the world. As well as the sounds of Sierra Leone you can hear reggae, highlife, American pop and more in ‘Akera Ka Abonshor’. “And that’s the way it is,” says David Attenborough.

This interview originally appeared in Songlines #125. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, please visit:

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Alan Lomax: a beginner’s guide

Posted on January 21st, 2016 in Recent posts by .


Peter B Lowry on the prime doyen of folklore and field recording

Alan Lomax… what a concept! The person without whom there would probably be no Songlines. And that is not attempted hyperbole, merely the truth. With a six decade career documenting the musics of the world’s folk, the possibilities are nearly endless regarding available recorded material. Beginning his field recording in 1933 in the southern US assisting his father, he was a single-minded cultural polymath who amassed a huge collection. A behemoth, in more ways than one, Alan was later the vanguard of 1940s-50s folk revivals, first in the US, then later in England, Ireland and Scotland.

How many people do you know of that are one degree of alliterative separation from Moby, Muddy Waters, and Miles Davis? Not to mention the likes of Leadbelly, Ewan MacColl, Pete Seeger, The Copper Family, Woody Guthrie, Hamish Henderson, Jelly Roll Morton, Seamus Ennis, Son House… the list goes on and on. He felt compelled to document the musics of many a world culture – nobody could do or know it all, of course, but he came as close as was humanly possible. But the proof is in the recordings that he was involved with, directly or indirectly, during his many decades of field activity.

Born January 31 , 1913 in Austin, Texas, Alan’s father (John A Lomax) was a university professor and later also the field recorder-director for the US Library of Congress (then) Folk Song Archive. The earliest material (including Leadbelly) was recorded by John and Alan during the early to mid-30s for the Library and helped infect him with a life-long interest in folk cultures, especially singing. Those early sessions were cut on aluminium discs on a vaguely portable disc-cutter stored in their car boot; glass-based acetate discs were used by the 1940s when Alan was the youngest ever archive director. During the later McCarthy era, Alan had to depart DC, going to England and Europe for a most useful spell, during which he left his footprint in the Scottish, English and Irish folk sand – not to mention Spain and Italy.

He returned to the US later in the 1940s, putting together LP collections of “folk and primitive music” for Columbia Records and doing some location recording with his first tape recorder. In the late 1950s, the gift of a stereo machine from the Erteguns (executives of Atlantic Records) gave rise to Lomax’s fabled ‘Southern Journey’ that has been the source for Moby’s Play and the Tangle Eye remixes. There were occasional forays ‘into the field’ after that, mainly filmic, but that slowed up as he became diverted by other cultural interests.

His latter years (until his death in 2002) were spent gathering all that he had done into many broad-brush possibilities, including his concept of the ‘Global Jukebox’ (in advance of the internet). There had never been such a ‘complete’ individual before Alan and will never be another such after him – a single individual with such broad curiosity and knowledge about the musics of the world – it’s just not humanly possible. While difficult to pick specific recommendations out of the literally hundreds of great CDs available, below are five points of entry. After that, you’re on your own… enjoy.

Recommended Recordings

alan-lomax-collection-samplerThe Alan Lomax Collection Sampler


A single CD that is just what it says it is, from ‘Southern Journey’ through ‘The English, Scottish & Irish Recordings’ to  ’The Ballad Operas’ taking in Caribbean, Spanish, and Italian as well as older Library of Congress material. It will either whet or dry your appetite for more possibilities. If the former, go to and dive in. It’s all good.


alan lomax popular songbookAlan Lomax: Popular Songbook


A single CD compilation of material ‘that became famous as pop, rock, R&B and jazz hits’ is how it’s described. Only a slight stretch but full of fine performances of songs that may be familiar to you in some form or another: ‘The House of the Rising Sun’, ‘Black Betty’, ‘Sloop John B’, ‘The Gallows Pole’, ‘Rock Island Line’, ‘Alborada de Vigo’, ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby’ amongst them… just ask The Animals, The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Lonnie Donegan, Miles Davis and Gil Evans, or T-Bone Burnette and Gillian Welch (not to mention the cast of Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou!).

freedom the golden gate quintetFreedom: The Golden Gate Quartet & Josh White


Alan produced this overview of African-American music for a Library of Congress concert in 1940. While something of a curate’s egg, it’s an interesting period piece nonetheless and a view of how certain people in the US viewed historical ‘Negro’ cultural expressions at that point in time.


jelly roll morton library of congressJelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax (1938)


One of the most incredible packages, this is the beginnings of directly recorded oral history (ie not taken down stenographicaily) documenting the history of early jazz. Morton talks and plays on seven of the eight CDs, and this is a must for those interested in early jazz and American music in general. 

jayme stone lomax projectJayme Stone’s Lomax Project

Borealis Records

Alan Lomax, the American folklorist, ethnomusicologist and filmmaker spent his life travelling the world making field recordings. He is best known for his work in the prisons, farms and plantations of the American South and the Caribbean. It is these recordings that Canadian banjo player and composer Jayme Stone sought to bring back to life with various collaborators on this awe-inspiring piece of work. At the centenary of Lomax’s birth, Stone revisits 19 songs and tunes from Lomax’s body of work: sea shanties, Scots ballads, gospels, West Indian love songs, work tunes, eastern Appalachian fiddle tunes. The album comes with extensive notes and artwork celebrating both Lomax’s life and the making of this album.

Outstanding among the tracks are ‘Shenandoah’, a heart-breaking sea shanty sung by the ethereal-voiced Margaret Glaspy, and ‘I Want to Hear Somebody Pray’, a rousing Caribbean gospel sung by a glorious vocal chorus. Stone accompanies the latter with his banjo, fitted with a deadening piece of foam to emulate the West African ngoni sound in order to reinforce the song’s African roots. ‘Julie and Joe’ are two conjoined Appalachian tunes, with fast-beating fiddles and banjo bearing the energy of the region’s signature sound. As in all the tracks, the banjo is understated. Stone’s quiet influence speaks not just through the sensitive contributions of his instrument but also through the research, coordination and care he has taken with this groundbreaking piece of work.

Photo: Alan Lomax (left) and Raphael Hurtault, La Plaine, Dominica, Caribbean, 1962. (Alan Lomax Collection; American Folklife Center; Library of Congress/Courtesy of Alan Lomax estate)

This article originally appeared in Songlines #39. For more information about how to subscribe to Songlines, visit:

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A to Z of World Music

Posted on September 30th, 2015 in Features, Recent posts by .


Confused, bewildered and overwhelmed by the mayhem of global sounds? World music is a maze. And what you need is a good map. So here is our A to Z of world music, taking you from Africa Express to Zimbabwe, from Balkan brass to qawwali and from cumbia to WOMAD. Words: Simon Broughton, Jane Cornwell & Nigel Williamson. Illustration: Andy Potts

atozAAfrica Express

Many Western pop stars develop a fascination with African music but their interest seldom goes much further than incorporating an Afrobeat rhythm or a Touareg guitar groove into their own work. Blur’s Damon Albarn was determined to take the process to another level with Africa Express, creating an open-door platform to bring together African and Anglo-American musicians. Over the last decade, Africa Express has curated a series of fascinating collaborations, both onstage and on record, as the likes of Paul McCartney, Paul Weller and Roots Manuva have jammed with Amadou & Mariam, Bassekou Kouyaté and countless others, exposing African music to a mainstream rock audience as never before. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Various Artists, Africa Express Presents Terry Riley’s in C Mali (Transgressive, 2014)


atozBBalkan Brass

There’s been a big boom in Balkan brass in recent years, kicked off by Emir Kusturica and Goran Bregović in the landmark film Underground. It’s become an international party music led by Serbia’s Boban Marković, Macedonia’s Kočani Orkestar and Romania’s Fanfare Ciocărlia. The huge Guča festival has become symbol of Balkan brass in all its intoxicating excess. But the music is nothing new. It was born from a fusion of the military bands of the Ottoman Turks and the Habsburg Empire in the 19th century. SB

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra vs Fanfare Ciocărlia, Balkan Brass Battle (Asphalt Tango, 2011)



Originating in Colombia’s Caribbean coastal region, the rhythms of cumbia are said to lie in a courtship dance practiced among African slaves, but were swiftly fused with Hispanic influences to create a tropical Afro-Caribbean dance style that went viral across South America. The golden age of traditional cumbia came in the mid-20th century when its influence reached North America and the likes of Nat King Cole recorded cumbia songs. But in recent years the music has been given a contemporary, urban twist to enjoy a thrilling revival on club dance floors as tecnocumbia and nu-cumbia, incorporating elements of hip-hop, dancehall, dub and electronica. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Various Artists, The Rough Guide to Cumbia (World Music Network, 2013)


atozDDiabaté dynasty

West African musical heritage has for centuries been preserved by a hereditary griot caste that has handed down traditional knowledge and virtuosi from father to son. Toumani Diabaté, currently the poet laureate among the world’s kora players, claims a griot lineage of family musicians stretching back 71 generations. His father, Sidiki Diabaté, who originally hailed from the Gambia, was a kora player of legendary fame and his younger brother Mamadou Sidiki Diabaté is a prominent virtuoso. Toumani’s son, also named Sidiki, is the latest recruit to the family tradition, recently recording a spectacular album of kora duets with his father. Another branch of the family, the Jobartehs, continues to dominate Gambian kora playing. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté, Toumani & Sidiki (World Circuit, 2014)


atozEÉthiopiques series

The golden age of Ethiopian music ran from the 1950s to the 70s, when the likes of Mahmoud Ahmed, Tlahoun Gèssèssè and Mulatu Astatke filled the nightclubs of Addis Ababa with an intoxicating style of Ethio-jazz, which hypnotically blended pentatonic Ethiopian scales with Western instrumentation. This spectacular but fading heritage was brought back into the spotlight by the award-winning Éthiopiques series of CD reissues, launched by the French ethnomusicologist Francis Falceto on Buda Musique in 1998, and which now runs to a treasure trove of 29 volumes. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Various Artists, The Very Best of Éthiopiques (Manteca, 2007)



There’s been a recent revival of Portuguese fado as a new generation of young artists have become interested in its melancholic beauty. The music was born in Lisbon in the early 19th century, became internationally famous in the 1950s, thanks to Amália Rodrigues, but was seen as tainted by the fascist regime a er the revolution that overthrew the dictatorship in 1974. That’s now forgotten and singers like Mariza, Ana Moura, Cristina Branco, Carminho and Gisela João have driven a spectacular rebirth in Portugal and increasingly around the world. Male singers seem less exportable but Carlos do Carmo and Ricardo Ribeiro are superb. And fado’s secret weapon, of course, is the tingling beauty of the Portuguese guitar. SB See also The Songlines Essential 10: Portuguese Fado Albums.

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Mariza, Transparente (EMI, 2005)



Paul Simon landed himself in hot water when he flew to South Africa in 1985 to begin recording Graceland with black township musicians. Accused of breaking the UN’s cultural boycott against the apartheid regime, with the distance of time the controversy now seems perverse and his response unanswerable. ‘What it represented was the essence of anti-apartheid in that it was a collaboration between blacks and whites to make music that people everywhere enjoyed,’ he said. ‘It was completely the opposite from what the apartheid regime said, which is that one group of people were inferior. Here, there were no inferiors or superiors, just an acknowledgement of everybody’s work as a musician. It was a powerful statement.’ Whatever the politics, he created a landmark album in the history of world music, which won a Grammy award and took the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo to a global audience. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Paul Simon, Graceland (Warner Bros, 1986)


atozHGeorge-Kahumoku-Jr-Matt-Thayer-Free1Hawaiian slack-key

One of the world’s greatest acoustic guitar traditions, this solo fingerpicked style is as it says: the practice of loosening some strings from standard tunings to make opening tunings. Sweet and soulful, personal and flexible, with the thumb playing bassline and the fingers improvising around the melody, slack-key has been evolving since the 1830s (when Spanish and Mexican cowboys brought guitars to Hawaii) but it wasn’t until the 1970s that it surged in popularity. Look out for albums by late elders such as Gabby Pahinui and Sonny Chillingworth and by George Kahumoku Jr and young innovator, Makana Cameron. JC

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Makana Cameron, Ki Ho’Alu: A Journey of Hawaiian Slack Key (Punahele, 2003)


atozIIsland Records

Founded by Chris Blackwell, Island Records brought reggae to the world in the 1970s via the likes of Bob Marley and the Wailers, Toots and the Maytals and Burning Spear. Inspired by the label’s success in transforming a rhythm from a tiny Caribbean island into a global musical powerhouse, in the 80s it became the first major label to take world music seriously, signing King Sunny Adé, Salif Keita, Angélique Kidjo and Baaba Maal, among others. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM King Sunny Adé, Juju Music (Island, 1982)


atozJAntônio Carlos Jobim

The compositions of the classically-trained ‘Tom’ Jobim encapsulate the essence of Brazilian cool. The prime mover behind the creation of bossa nova, his ‘Garota de Ipanema’ (The Girl from Ipanema) is not only the best-known example of the lilting genre but became one of the most recorded songs of all time after bossa nova took off not only in Rio but conquered the world and was championed by American jazz musicians. Jobim’s compositions have been recorded by almost every significant Brazilian artist and the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, both of whom recorded entire albums of his songs. NW See also Bossa nova – the Ultimate Guide

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Antônio Carlos Jobim, The Girl from Ipanema: The Antônio Carlos Jobim Songbook (Verve, 1995)


atozKFela-Kuti-free2Fela Kuti

Fela Anikulapo Kuti, aka ‘he who carries death in his pouch,’ wasn’t just the man who invented Afrobeat, that fiery mix of jazz, soul, funk, highlife and traditional Nigerian and Ghanaian music. He was one of the 20th century’s most influential African figures. A singer, saxophonist and bandleader whose music gave voice to the oppressed, he withstood the wrath of corrupt Nigerian governments. When Fela died in 1997, a million people joined his funeral procession through Lagos. His sons Femi and Seun, along with the likes of Dele Sosimi are keeping the Afrobeat flag flying. JC See also Fela Kuti: A Beginner’s Guide

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Fela Kuti, The Best of the Black President, Vols 1 & 2 (Knitting Factory Records)


atozLAlan Lomax

A recent biography of the folklorist Alan Lomax was subtitled The Man Who Recorded the World. And it was no exaggeration, for Lomax’s role in preserving folk music from around the globe was unparalleled. His starting point was accompanying his father on his first field trip to the Deep South in 1933, the pair discovered Lead Belly and recorded his vast repertoire. Working for the Library of Congress, Lomax recorded the likes of Muddy Waters, Woody Guthrie and Big Bill Broonzy and then turned his attention to the rest of the world, in particular Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Russia, Romania and the Caribbean. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Various Artists, Alan Lomax Popular Songbook (Rounder, 2003)

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A to Z of World Music (Part 2)

Posted on September 30th, 2015 in News, Recent posts by .

atozMMiriam Makeba

Known as ‘Mama Africa’, the singing conscience of her people, Makeba was still a wide-eyed ingénue in her 20s when she went into exile in the late 50s. She became the first black South African artist to become an international star with hits such as ‘Pata Pata’. She was not able to return home to South Africa until 1990. By then she had become perhaps second only to Mandela as an ambassador for those suffering under the yoke of apartheid and an emblem for the perseverance and fortitude of a continent. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa (Milan, 2015)



The ney is a reed flute that is central to the mystical Sufi music in Turkey and Iran. When you hear the yearning, breathy, plaintive sounds of the ney you are transported into a spiritual dimension – which is why it’s so frequently used in film soundtracks. It’s at the heart of the music of the Mevlevi (whirling dervishes). Rumi’s most famous poem begins with the ney lamenting being cut from the reed bed as a symbol of man being disconnected from God. As Rumi has become the world’s most popular mystic poet, so the ney has become the mystical instrument of choice worldwide. Foremost among Turkish players, Kudsi Erguner comes from several generations of neyzen in Istanbul and is a true master of the instrument. SB See also Sufi music: A Beginner’s Guide

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Kudsi Erguner, Ney: The Sacred Flute of the Whirling Dervishes (Al Sur, 1996)


atozOOrquesta Buena Vista Social Club

The Buena Vista Social Club was never meant to be a band. But what a band it turned out to be. The Grammy-winning 1997 disc and its follow-up albums made superstars of the likes of crooner Ibrahim Ferrer, pianist Rubén González and the ‘Fiancée of filin,’ Omara Portuondo. They toured the world and then they toured it again, with new members coming in to replace each elderly Cuban maestro who chachachá-ed off to the sky. After 20 glorious years the BVSC recently bid farewell with an extensive world tour deftly prefixed by ‘Orquesta.’ Less adiós, perhaps, than ¡hasta la vista! JC

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Buena Vista Social Club, Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit, 1997)


atozPAstor Piazzolla

Argentinian tango has enjoyed several golden ages inspired by many bold innovators, including such early pioneers as Carlos Gardel and Aníbal Troilo. But it was the work of composer, bandoneón player and arranger Astor Piazzolla from the 1950s onwards that radically opened up tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music into a style that came to be known as nuevo tango. A cerebral haemorrhage in 1990 left him in a coma from which he never regained consciousness. He died two years later at the relatively young age of 71 but he’s still tango’s towering titan. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Astor Piazzolla, Tango: Zero Hour (Nonesuch, 1986)



It perhaps seems unlikely that qawwali, a spiritual music from the Islamic shrines of Pakistan and India could become a worldwide musical sensation, but that is what happened thanks to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948-1997). Qawwali as a musical form goes back to the 13th century and features lead and supporting vocals, with clapping and percussion. It envelops you like an ocean. Nusrat had long been recognised as a sensational performer in Pakistan, and then started performing in the West. His performances at WOMAD led to several recordings for Real World and collaborations with Michael Brook. SB See also Sufi music: A Beginner’s Guide

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mustt Mustt (Real World, 1990)



The name derives from the Spanish word rumbo, which means ‘par ,’ and although, like salsa, the term has become something of a catch-all, its use invariably guarantees a good time. In Cuba, rumba was initially used to describe a specific dance form but became a term for almost any percussive, upbeat party music. ‘El Manisero’ (The Peanut Vendor), which became the first Cuban million-seller in the 1930s, is widely acknowledged as the launch pad of a pre-rock’n’roll worldwide ‘rumba craze’ spearheaded by the likes of Pérez Prado and Beny Moré. It remains at the heart of Cuban dance music but has also migrated to Africa where rumba congolaise evolved into soukous, while flamenco rumba and rumba catalane are popular forms in Spain. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Beny Moré with Pérez Prado and His Orchestra, El Barbaro del Ritmo (Pure Sounds, 1995)



‘S’ is for sitar and for its most virtuosic exponent – for surely no musician has ever been more synonymous with his instrument than Ravi Shankar. His sitar playing reaffirmed the history and the beauty of Indian classical music and its highest form of expression in the raga. But he was also a great innovator who brought Indian music to Western audiences via collaborations with the likes of violinist Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison. Today his daughter and foremost pupil Anoushka Shankar continues his work. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Ravi Shankar, India’s Master Musician (EMI/Angel, 1999)



The snaking electric guitar lines and funky, camel-gait rhythms of Tinariwen sounded enticingly and exotically new when first unleashed on the world via their debut album in 2001 – the same year the group helped to launch the now famous Festival in the Desert in the remote sand dunes of northern Mali, where the Touareg make their nomadic home. Since then a caravan of further Touareg guitar groups such as Teraka, Toumast and Tamikrest has emerged from the desert to make the sound familiar without ever losing its thrill. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Tinariwen, Aman Iman (Independiente, 2007)


atozUUilleann pipes

‘Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling, from glen to glen, and down the mountain side’ is perhaps the most famous opening line in Irish song – and nothing characterises Celtic music better than the haunting sound of the uilleann pipes. With their bittersweet tone, the Irish pipes have a quite different harmonic structure and richer emotional range than the Scottish bagpipes and have produced a long line of virtuoso players, the most revered of whom is Séamus Ennis (1919-1982), who was first recorded by Alan Lomax in 1951. Na Píobairí Uilleann, co-founded by Ennis in 1968, is an organisation dedicated to the promotion of the uilleann pipes and its music. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Séamus Ennis, Forty Years of Irish Piping (Green Linnet, 1974)



After Sibelius and heavy metal, Värttinä (the Finnish word for ‘spindle’) must be Finland’s biggest musical success. They combine elements of their fellow musicians in their unique approach – Sibelius’ love for the old runo songs of Karelia with the full-on vocal power of metalheads. It’s the fiery female vocals and a sense of women power that makes the Värttinä sound. The group celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2013 and the current vocalists are founding member Mari Kaasinen, together with Susan Aho and Karoliina Kantelinen. SB

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Värttinä, Miero (Real World, 2006)



Founded by Peter Gabriel and some of his mates in 1980, this good-natured celebration of multicultural arts, music and dance takes place each July in the pastoral grounds of Charlton Park, a stately home owned by the Earl of Suffolk, in Wiltshire. Similar events happen in other countries around the world, including Australia’s stellar WOMADelaide. A three-day platform for artists from everywhere, WOMAD is a microcosm of a world we all should be living in, what with its Global Village and one-love vibe. Look out for the tall, trademark silk flags, flapping gently over an alt-music utopia. JC

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Various Artists, 30: Real World at WOMAD (Real World, 2012)



Go anywhere in Greece, and they know the name Xylouris. But go to Crete, the home of this musical dynasty, and they call them by other names too: Psarantonis, the great singer and lyra player; his lute-playing brother, Psaroyiannis; and their late sibling Psaranikos, aka the singer and lyra player Nikos Xylouris, a figurehead for the movement that brought down the military junta in 1973. There’s also George Xylouris, singer, lauto player and Psarantonis’ son; George’s oud-playing brother, Lambis; and sister and singer Nicki. Then there’s George’s three Greek-Australian kids, and George’s current project Xylouris White, a duo with Dirty Three drummer Jim White. Music in the DNA? Obviously. JC

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Psarantonis & the Ensemble Xylouris, Mountain Rebels (Network, 2008)


atozYYoussou-N'Dour-Youri-Lenquette-FreeYoussou N’Dour

The best-known African singer in the world, thanks largely to his collaborations with Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Neneh Cherry for the international 1994 megahit ‘7 Seconds’, Youssou’s celebrity eventually led to him becoming a Senegalese MP. But political office remains secondary to his supple, soulful tenor voice and the thrilling dance style known as mbalax, which he pioneered and has elevated him to the role of globally-feted ambassador not only for Senegalese music but for African culture in general. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Youssou N’Dour, The Guide (Wommat) (Sony, 1994)



Zimbabwe’s transition from white colonial rule to independent republic may have soured in recent years, but its music has provided an indestructible backbeat through good times and bad. The jit jive of the Bhundu Boys made them one of the best-known African acts of the late 80s and the singer and guitarist Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi remains an iconic figure. But the undisputed ‘Lion of Zimbabwe’ is Thomas Mapfumo, who adopted traditional mbira (thumb piano) into a contemporary style and soundtracked the liberation war with his militant chimurenga music. He then became a critic of the Mugabe regime and went into exile in the US, but his music remains as potent as ever. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Thomas Mapfumo, The Chimurenga Singles 1976-1980 (Shanachie, 1984)


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This article originally appeared in Songlines #110 (Aug/Sept 2015). Subscribe to Songlines

Photo credits: George Kahumoku Jr (© Matt Thayer); Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (© Ishida Masataka); Youssou N’Dour (© Youri Lenquette)

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